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A Week at a Conference with the Dell Sputnik

I attended DjangoCon a couple of weeks ago (which was awesome!) so that was my first opportunity to spend some concentrated quality time with the Dell Sputnik and put it through its paces.

As you've probably guessed from my previous posts I'm pretty enamored with the Sputnik, and using it full-time for a week straight didn't change my opinion. It's a particularly great machine to travel with since it's the ideal combination of light but still powerful enough to use for "real" work. In years past I've traveled with only a 10.1" netbook and that was a miserable experience, but the 13" screen and fantastic battery life of the Sputnik make it the ideal conference companion and I could still catch up on work in the evenings without feeling like I had one hand tied behind my back.

Battery Life

Day one of DjangoCon was a full day of extended tutorials so I used the Sputnik all day to take notes in Zim. There was no wi-fi available so I ran the Sputnik with wi-fi disabled (had there been a decent wi-fi signal I probably would have taken notes in Google Docs), and I did disable Bluetooth as well since I wasn't using it. I also dimmed the screen to its lowest level since the room was dimly lit anyway and that brightness setting was more than enough to be usable.

In the second tutorial of the day I did enable wi-fi and used my Verizon hotspot since there were some materials to download for the second tutorial. I also close the lid putting the Sputnik into suspend mode when there were breaks, which accounted for a total of an hour of suspend time, and I powered it down completely during the lunch break.

Note that this is a bit of a contrast in my previous battery test when I ran the Sputnik with all the default settings and didn't even try to conserve battery life, and in that case I still got more than 8 hours out of the battery.

All told the clock time for the day spanned about 7.5 hours including lunch and breaks, and in using the Sputnik with wi-fi on for about 3 hours of that, suspending during breaks, and powering off during lunch, I ended the day with nearly 50% of the battery remaining. Nice.

On the other days of the conference I followed a similar pattern but only powered down during lunch and didn't ever shut the lid otherwise, and I was using wi-fi most of the day. The schedule on these days ran from 9 am - 6 pm, and even with this longer time span and wi-fi enabled all day, I'd still end each day with about 25% of my battery remaining.

In short, the battery life is darn impressive and beyond up to the task of living through a conference without having access to power during the day.

General Usability

Since I got the Sputnik right before I left for DjangoCon, this also gave me my first opportunity to use the Sputnik as my only machine for a week straight.

I won't repeat what I said in my previous "initial impressions" post but I will say all those initial impressions held up during the week. The Sputnik is an exceptionally well built machine and is a real pleasure to use. I continued to be impressed with the vividness of the screen and the keyboard is absolutely fantastic.

The only complaint I have from using the Sputnik more heavily for a week is the trackpad. I'm sure this can be resolved through a bit of additional driver work and some setting tweaking, but I did find on occasion that even though I had "tap to click" disabled, and "disable trackpad while typing" turned on, the cursor would occasionally jump around the screen while I was typing, or inadvertently fire click events while I was using the trackpad.

Note there are some setting changes recommended in the Sputnik forums that I enabled which helped quite a bit, but it was still a bit of an issue. On an annoyance scale of 1 - 10 I'd put it at maybe a 3, so not a huge thing but was noticeable. There are also some active bug reports on this issue so I suspect with some driver updates (Sputnik is technically in beta, remember!) they'll get this resolved.


After living with the Sputnik as my only machine for a week I continue to be extremely impressed. Particularly in a developer conference situation where power isn't available at every seat and you have to fight for the few outlets that are available, the Sputnik's fantastic battery life let me focus on the conference instead of worrying about whether or not my laptop was going to conk out.

Other than the occasional issues with the trackpad I thoroughly enjoyed using the Sputnik at DjangoCon -- it makes a great conference companion!


Unknown said…
This comment has been removed by the author.

Im curious if you got any curious looks or interest in the strange machine you were using? :)

Matt Woodward said…
I did have several people ask about it actually. About half of the people had heard about Project Sputnik, and it left everyone with a very positive impression!
kamalmostafa said…
Hi, I think we just fixed your touchpad annoyance:
Cypress trackpad: Disable tap-to-click doesn't affect mouse button zones.
Matt Woodward said…
AWESOME. Thanks. Will give that a shot later today!

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